Mormons

Waves of transgender news add to difficult agenda confronting religious traditionalists

Waves of transgender news add to difficult agenda confronting religious traditionalists

A bit of U.S. “mainline” Protestant history was made May 11. The Rhode Island State Council of Churches announced that its 70-year-old executive minister, American Baptist Donald Anderson, will take three months off for an unspecified “process of transitioning” to female identity.

The council’s board is “totally supportive,” stated its  president, a United Church of Christ pastor, and anticipates Anderson’s September return under the new name of Donnie. The council sponsored an April 24 “merciful conversation on gender identity and expression” at an Episcopal church.

By coincidence, the April 25 edition of The Christian Century, a prototypical “mainline” voice, published a noteworthy article on “nonbinary gender” as part of God’s good creation.

The piece was an excerpt from a new release by the Presbyterian Church (USA) book house, “Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians.” Author Austen Hartke, creator of the youtube series “Transgender and Christian,” is a recent graduate of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he won an Old Testament prize.

This frontier in modern moral theology confronts many U.S. religious groups head-on, and just after legalized same-sex marriage, causing religious-freedom disputes the news media will be covering for the foreseeable future. 

The transgender cause contrasts with the heavily “binary” and “cisgender” culture throughout the Bible and the Quran that shapes the beliefs of traditional Christians, Jew and Muslims.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

An amicable parting? Joint statement on Mormon Church leaving Boy Scouts ignores values clashes

An amicable parting? Joint statement on Mormon Church leaving Boy Scouts ignores values clashes

Differences?

What differences?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Boy Scouts of America issued a joint statement this week announcing an end to a century-old partnership between the two entities.

Go ahead and read the entire statement. See if you notice any hint of the clashes over values that brought the relationship to the breaking point:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Boy Scouts of America have been partners for more than 100 years. The Scouting program has benefited hundreds of thousands of Latter-day Saint boys and young men, and BSA has also been greatly benefited in the process. We jointly express our gratitude to the thousands of Scout leaders and volunteers who have selflessly served over the years in Church-sponsored Scouting units, including local BSA districts and councils.

In this century of shared experience, the Church has grown from a U.S.-centered institution to a worldwide organization, with a majority of its membership living outside the United States. That trend is accelerating. The Church has increasingly felt the need to create and implement a uniform youth leadership and development program that serves its members globally. In so doing, it will be necessary for the Church to discontinue its role as a chartered partner with BSA.

We have jointly determined that, effective on December 31, 2019, the Church will conclude its relationship as a chartered organization with all Scouting programs around the world. Until that date, to allow for an orderly transition, the intention of the Church is to remain a fully engaged partner in Scouting for boys and young men ages 8–13 and encourages all youth, families, and leaders to continue their active participation and financial support.

While the Church will no longer be a chartered partner of BSA or sponsor Scouting units after December 31, 2019, it continues to support the goals and values reflected in the Scout Oath and Scout Law and expresses its profound desire for Scouting’s continuing and growing success in the years ahead.

Nope, I didn't catch any sign of strain either. I suppose that's a real nice statement, from a public relations standpoint. 

Meanwhile, back in the real world ...

Please respect our Commenting Policy

A tearjerker of a faith story: Three members of Texas family killed in crash, and four others hurt

A tearjerker of a faith story: Three members of Texas family killed in crash, and four others hurt

Try to look at that photo and not shed a few tears.

The three children pictured were hurt — badly hurt — in a crash that killed their parents and an infant sister. Another brother also was hospitalized but released after a few days.

I came across the story on the Metro & State section cover of today's Dallas Morning News.

Before I saw the photo, the headline grabbed my attention:

Orphaned siblings lean on one another, faith

So apparently, there is a religion angle to this sad story. I read the lede and then turned to the jump page, interested in learning more.

The Dallas newspaper quotes the children's great-aunt Teresa Burrell, whose home state offers the first clue about the family's possible religious affiliation:

"They've come so far," said Burrell, who flew south from her Utah home to be with her niece and nephews, "but we know there's a a tough road ahead. They're in so much pain." 

Angela, 8, was in a coma for days after the crash. She's stable and able to speak now, but casts cover half of her body to support her legs, which were crushed. Brain trauma also caused her to suffer memory loss, and she had to be told twice that her parents and sister did not survive. 

Zachary, 5, suffered a broken back and internal injuries, and has recently been fighting fevers and other complications. Burrell said he was conscious throughout the crash and has had night terrors because of it.

He lost his first tooth after waking up from his coma and was happy to discover that the tooth fairy makes hospital visits.  

Wyatt, 4, also suffered severe head trauma and was in a coma. Several strokes left half of his body paralyzed, but with the help of physical therapy and lots of prayer, Burrell said he's now walking again, and even trying to run around.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

What's big news? Major Mormon event showcases varying views on what's a big story

What's big news? Major Mormon event showcases varying views on what's a big story

In a 2,000-word news wrap-up about Mormonism’s semi-annual General Conference that concluded Easter Sunday (note unusual scheduling), the lede reported that attendees ”made history” by voting to “sustain” Russell Nelson as the new president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

That was the news judgment of the church-run daily Deseret News. From the standpoint of LDS believers, affirmation of Nelson deserved pride of place because he’s regarded as God’s unique spokesman.

But for non-church media that ritual was yawnsville, worth a sentence or two.

Why? There was no choice of other names and conference attendees always affirm a new president without dissent. Moreover, Nelson’s colleagues had already installed him weeks beforehand. Beyond that, Nelson’s ascent was predestined years beforehand because the new LDS president is automatically the man with the earliest appointment to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

That means newswriters can already put in the bank their advance articles announcing the next president, assuming that Dallin Oaks, 85, outlives Nelson, who is 93.

The Deseret’s secondary theme was the lede for other media: Nelson’s choice of the first LDS apostle with Asian ancestry, America’s Gerrit Gong, and the first apostle from Latin America, Brazil’s Ulisses Soares. It’s intriguing to think Gong, 64, or Soares, 59, could head this heavily Americanized religion someday. (Germany’s Dieter Uchtdorf is also a current apostle. In its early history, the church elevated apostles from England, Denmark and Ireland.)

Please respect our Commenting Policy

And yet another #ChurchToo scandal, this time from the Mormons

And yet another #ChurchToo scandal, this time from the Mormons

In a week that’s been a continuous wave of #ChurchToo revelations –- including a massive investigation of Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church and yesterday’s news about Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page –- I wanted to draw your attention to a related debate and quasi-scandal occurring in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Long-time Salt Lake Tribune religion reporter Peggy Stack, along with education reporter Benjamin Wood, came out with a story Monday about a church decision to allow a second adult in the room while bishops question teenagers about their sexual sins.

Say what? This is a fascinating look at Latter-day Saints’ lives that one wouldn’t know unless you were in a culture where your bishop can ask you pointed questions about whether you’ve been chaste.

It's not easy writing about sexual matters in a PG-rated fashion fit for a daily newspaper, but these reporters did a pretty good job at it. The key: The reporters have provide enough background to help outsiders, but not overstate the obvious for regular readers in Mormon country.

For more, read here:

Amid a grass-roots outcry about sexually explicit interviews with children and sexual assault allegations leveled at a former Mormon mission leader, the LDS Church’s governing First Presidency unveiled revised guidelines Monday for one-on-one meetings between members and local lay leaders while emphasizing that most abuse allegations are “true and should be taken seriously.”
In a document titled “Preventing and Responding to Abuse,” congregational leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are encouraged to invite a parent or other adult to sit in an adjoining room when meeting with women and children.

The Deseret News also had a piece on the document here

Those of you who’ve been following the various accusations leveled at evangelical Protestant ministers in recent weeks may have missed a bombshell that broke last week in Utah.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Outlawing Down syndrome abortions: Isn't religion always part of this news story?

Outlawing Down syndrome abortions: Isn't religion always part of this news story?

What are the countries with the highest amount of kids with Down syndrome? If you look here, they are the United States, followed by Brazil and Mexico, all of which have highly religious populations.

So you'd think that any article dealing with the syndrome and abortion in highly churched Utah might have something to do with religion.

You might think that. But the topic is not mentioned in this otherwise informative piece by the Washington Post. Once again, it might have helped to consult the religion-desk staff during the reporting process.

At stake is a piece of legislation outlawing abortion -- when Down syndrome is the overriding reason for terminating the pregnancy. 

Karianne Lisonbee stepped up to the lectern to talk about what she called “a terrible form of discrimination.”
The Republican state representative in Utah had just introduced a bill that would make it a crime for a doctor to perform an abortion if a woman is seeking one “solely” because the fetus has Down syndrome. “In recent years, there has been a shocking increase in abortions performed for no other reason than because a prenatal test identified the potential for a trait a parent didn’t like,” she said at the news conference last month.

At this point, most articles would follow up her assertion with some factchecking.

As it turns out, the abortion rate with parents who learn their kid has Down syndrome goes as high as 90 percent internationally and 67 percent in the United States. Instead, this piece quoted the legislator, then added:

The highly controversial legislation -- and similar bills passed in North Dakota, Ohio, Indiana and Louisiana -- has put Down syndrome front and center in the abortion debate when the condition is becoming more widely understood and accepted in the United States. In many neighborhoods today, children with Down syndrome participate in mainstream classrooms and on sports teams. Companies including Safeway, Walgreens and Home Depot have created programs to train and employ adults with the condition (along with adults with other disabilities). This year, Gerber, the maker of baby food, lit up social media with expressions of delight when it announced that it had chosen Lucas Warren -- who has Down syndrome -- as its newest “spokesbaby.”

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Taking the perennial creation debate beyond those familiar evangelicals and fundamentalists

Taking the perennial creation debate beyond those familiar evangelicals and fundamentalists

U.S. evangelicals and fundamentalists have vigorously debated when to date the origin of planet Earth and of the human species, whether God as Creator employed Darwin-type evolution and, more recently, whether the Bible requires belief in a literal Adam and Eve.

Reporters should be acquainted with Ken Ham’s strict “young earth”  creationists, Hugh Ross’s “old earth” creationists, pro-evolution evangelicals at BioLogos (founded by Francis Collins, an evangelical and world-class geneticist), the Intelligent Design researchers at the Discovery Institute and discussions within the American Scientific Affiliation, an organization of Bible-believing  professionals in science.

Though conservative Protestants have dominated news coverage, there’s a good  story angle in other religious groups that likewise struggle over evolution. In recent weeks, both Islam and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a.k.a. LDS or Mormon) have won some media attention on themes other writers could explore in further depth.

Islam’s creation account in the Koran parallels the longer version in the Jewish and Christian Bible. On scriptural grounds, Muslim authorities insist on a literal Adam and Eve (the latter is unnamed in the Koran but cited in recognized Hadith texts).

More broadly, “The Oxford Dictionary of Islam,” edited by Georgetown University expert John Esposito, states that evolution “is denounced by most Muslim scholars” as “a refutation of Koranic theories of creation.” Evolutionary ideas are excluded from school textbooks in nations like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan. However, a recent beliefnet.com column by Stephanie Hertzenberg sketches a more complicated, three-sided debate.  

First, many Muslims do believe any form of evolution is incompatible with their faith, a la Protestant creationists. Hertzenberg notes that in such traditional  interpretations of the Quran, Adam “had no parents and was a fully formed human being” when created, and other species also stem from the “sudden creation of complete modern organisms” without evolution. A prominent exponent of this stance is Turkish neurosurgeon Oktar Babuna, who has taught at three U.S. universities.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Mormons vs. evangelicals: It's more complicated than 'political allies, but theological rivals'

Mormons vs. evangelicals: It's more complicated than 'political allies, but theological rivals'

The fact that there are major theological differences between Mormons and evangelical Christians isn't exactly breaking news.

In fact, the Religion News Association stylebook entry on Mormons notes, "Because of their extra-biblical scriptures and beliefs about God and Jesus (they reject the Nicene Creed, for example), Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches do not regard Mormons as Christian."

But last week's death of Thomas S. Monson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, put those differences back into the spotlight.

In a 700-word news report headlined "Evangelicals And Mormons Are Political Allies, But Theological Rivals," NPR contrasted President Trump's warm statement after Monson's death with leading evangelicals' negative words concerning the Mormon leader's LDS faith:

Trump's own faith is not a centerpiece of his political identity. But those two faith communities — Mormons and evangelicals — have historically been the religious groups most closely identified with the Republican Party, and they have long aligned on such culture war issues as same-sex marriage, gender roles, transgender rights and abortion.
However, those shared political views do not translate to a theological alliance. In contrast to Trump's warm remembrance, many evangelical leaders responded to Monson's death with unsparing criticism of the LDS teachings he represented.
"False religion is a judgment from God, and Monson's life is a testimony to the enslavement that false religion brings," wrote James White, the director of Alpha and Omega Ministries in Phoenix and the author of 24 books on evangelical theology.
Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., was similarly harsh, using the occasion of Monson's death to highlight what he called "the great distinction between biblical Christianity and Mormonism."
"Should we consider the Mormon Church ... as a Christian denomination?" Mohler asked in his daily podcast. "No, we should not. It simply fails every major test of historic Christian orthodoxy."

Overall, NPR did a nice job — particularly for a quick-hit daily news report — of hitting a few high points of why Mormons and evangelicals often align politically but not theologically,

I do wish NPR had noted more clearly this big theological distinction: Mormons' contention that "all authentic Christianity vanished by the 2d Century and God needed to restore the authentic faith and church authority uniquely through American founder Joseph Smith Jr."

Please respect our Commenting Policy

A floating podcast: Are evangelicals more confused than usual, these days? #REALLY

A floating podcast: Are evangelicals more confused than usual, these days? #REALLY

This week's "Crossroads" podcast is a bit different, for several reasons.

In the headline, I called this a "floating" podcast because, well, I phoned into the Lutheran Public Radio studio from a cruise boat in the Bahamas (the final stage of some wonderful 40th wedding anniversary celebrations). So I was "floating," at the time. Also, the podcast isn't going to be posted on the GetReligion website right away because our tech person is (continuing the wedding theme) on his honeymoon. So click here to access the Issues, Etc., version of this show.

Now, to the topic. Host Todd Wilken asked me to take a look at an NPR essay that ran with this headline: "2017 Has Been A Rough Year For Evangelicals."

Yes, we are talking about yet ANOTHER elite-media look into the identity crisis among many evangelical leaders in the era of Donald Trump. But before we get into the heart of that essay, check out the lede:

As 2017 ends, evangelical Christians in the United States are suffering one of their periodic identity crises. Unlike other religious groups, the evangelical movement comprises a variety of perspectives and tendencies and is therefore especially prone to splintering and disagreement.

Yes, the first half of that is basically fine -- since anyone with any exposure to the American brand of evangelicalism knows that debates about doctrine and identity have been common through the decades. But what's going on with the statement that evangelical churches and institutions contain a "variety of perspectives and tendencies" and, thus, are somehow uniquely prone to divisions, debates and disagreements?

I laughed out loud the first time I read that.

So American Catholicism is a fortress of cultural conformity? Ditto for Lutherans and Anglicans?

Please respect our Commenting Policy